“Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” is the theme chosen for Catholic Schools Week, 2014. The heart of a Catholic education is a strong Catholic school community, and the foundation for that community is our faith.
Catholic education is an expression of the mission entrusted by Jesus to the Church He founded. Through education, the Church seeks to prepare its youth to proclaim the Good News and to translate this proclamation into action. We believe very strongly that we have a mission and that it is to build up members of the Church by nurturing the mind, body and spirit of young people today.
Our children are why Catholic schools exist, but it is the dedicated teaching staff that constitutes the heart of the school. For Catholic educators, every year is a “year of faith,” for every year is an opportunity to provide a vibrant faith-filled academic program, as well as a commitment to service. While noted as schools of academic excellence, the special character and reason for the existence of the Catholic school is the quality of the religious instruction integrated into the overall education of the students (“Catechesi Trendendae,” 69). Our faith is the sturdy framework around which everything else is integrated: a challenging curriculum rooted in Gospel values and Catholic teachings, the sacraments, liturgy, prayer, religious instruction and service experiences. If it is truly effective, the religious education and faith formation touches all members of the school community — students, parents, teachers, administrators and staff — forming them in the way of holiness.
Teachers in Catholic schools are in a privileged position. It is they who have the opportunity to model the faith, and guide both students and parents, instilling in them a sense of the Gospel challenge to acknowledge God’s central place in their lives. With their enthusiastic devotion to the mission of the Catholic school, teachers do whatever is necessary to help children grow and develop their gifts, and to form disciples — students who know, love and serve Christ, in this world and the next.
When Blessed John Paul II visited New York in 1979, he inspired thousands of Catholic teachers who were present with the following words: “Jesus shares with you His teaching ministry. Only in close communion with Him can you respond adequately. This is my hope, this is my prayer: That you will be totally open to Christ. That He will give you an ever-greater love for your students and an even stronger commitment to your vocation as Catholic educators. If you continue to be faithful to this ministry… you will be doing much to shape a peaceful, just and hope-filled world for the future. Yours is a great gift to the Church, a great gift to the nation.”
The mission of our Catholic schools is perhaps more important today than ever. Over the last academic year, 3,900 students have been admitted to diocesan schools with state school choice support. These 3,900 new students have been afforded the opportunity to learn and embrace their faith through the support of a community of dedicated, faith-filled teachers, administrators and pastors.
An 11 year old from one diocesan school described his enthusiasm for his new Catholic school: “Our teacher helps us learn math and reading, but we get to pray and talk about Jesus, too. I like it when we go to Mass together as a school, and it’s special when you get to do the readings. Most of all, I’m glad I’m learning to be an altar server.”
Currently, across our diocese, there are approximately 900 children with some identified special need being served within our schools. We must continue to minister to the needs of special education students, while securing additional specialists with various areas of expertise who can address all aspects of students’ learning and respect the challenges they face.
Over the last three years, teachers and administrators in our diocese have been diligently working together to strengthen diocesan curriculum, subject by subject, in order to improve upon not only what is taught, but how it is taught. As these very knowledgeable educators work together, they have a constant awareness that our curriculum must integrate fully with our faith.
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week 2014, we offer gratitude to the many parents, past and present, who have entrusted the treasure of their children to the care of Catholic schools. We also offer sincere gratitude to the 1,400 Catholic schoolteachers, administrators, staff members and pastors who lead the 41 schools of our diocese. They truly are, in the words of Blessed John Paul II, “great gifts to the Church.” These men and women understand their important vocation and are answering the call to shape a “peaceful, just and hope-filled world for the future.” For this, 14,000 diocesan students and their parents are the fortunate and grateful beneficiaries.
The continuing success of the ministry of Catholic schools depends upon the commitment and support of teachers, parents and the whole Catholic community. Through their generous contributions of time, talent, treasure and prayer, the Catholic schools of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend will long remain strong in faith, knowledge and service.
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